Governor Bob McDonnell has announced that the expected start date of the Amtrak Virginia extension to/from Norfolk will begin by December 31, 2012.

This moves the service to start 10 months earlier than originally projected.

“This service will provide immediate relief to road weary travelers between two of the state’s most congested regions,” said Governor McDonnell.

“This service is long overdue and I congratulate our partners and commend their cooperation in moving up the scheduled start date.”

The Commonwealth’s Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), CSX, Norfolk Southern and the City of Norfolk have been working speedily to make the necessary upgrades for the service.

The round-trip train will bring intercity passenger rail service to Norfolk for the first time since 1977, and will link Norfolk with a single-seat ride to Richmond, Washington, D.C. and cities as far north as Boston.

The updated timeline comes from today’s Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting where they passed a resolution outlining the new goals and start date.

“There is high demand for passenger rail service in Virginia as demonstrated by considerable ridership growth throughout the Commonwealth,” said Amtrak Vice President of Government Affairs and Corporate Communications Joe McHugh.

“We have a strong partnership with the Commonwealth and look forward to operating this expanded service to Norfolk in 2012, providing passengers the option of convenient one-seat service to Washington and Northeast Corridor destinations.”

The Norfolk train marks the third service expansion launched under the Amtrak Virginia partnership, which has introduced service to Richmond and Lynchburg since October 2009.

Virginia is the 15th state to partner with Amtrak for intercity passenger rail service, and the successful launch of these new services is made possible through the partnership between DRPT, Amtrak and the host railroads along the routes.

Amtrak Virginia routes had sizable gains in fiscal year 2011 over fiscal year 2010 with increases of 28.5 percent on the Washington-Lynchburg route and 19.1 percent on the Washington-Newport News route.

“This service is a win-win for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. The economies of these two regions are intertwined and getting this service operating will strengthen them both,” said Thelma Drake, Director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.